Three Ways to Start the Conversation About Mental Health Treatment
April 24, 2017 | 6-minute read
Bringing up mental health with a Veteran loved one can be challenging — sometimes, even the thought of it is stressful. How will your loved one react? What’s the best way to open up?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Every situation is unique, whether a Veteran returned home years ago or is transitioning from service now. Fortunately, VA provides resources that can help you start the conversation about mental health treatment.
Take a look below at a few ways to start the conversation. Each offers a strong starting point for communicating positively with the Veteran in your life.
1. Find a story that you and your Veteran loved one relate to on MakeTheConnection.net, and watch the video together.
For Veterans, real stories of recovery from their peers can offer encouragement and motivation from trusted sources. Hearing from someone from the same military branch or conflict where they served, or who worked through the same kinds of challenges after service, can feel comfortable and familiar — just like chatting with a battle buddy. Being able to relate to other Veterans’ stories and experiences can help Veterans realize that they’re not alone and that treatment worked for someone just like them.
As a Veteran’s family member or friend, you may find it hard to understand what exactly your loved one is going through — especially if he or she is reluctant to open up. The stories on MakeTheConnection.net can also be a powerful tool to help you recognize common challenges among Veterans and get a better sense of what they may be experiencing.
“It’s about really understanding the symptoms or areas that we can’t all understand,” says Tiffany, whose husband, Reagan, is a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, “and helping boost them and giving them the tools they need to manage it themselves.”
If you’re looking for a way to start talking with a Veteran about mental health, consider finding a story on Make the Connection that he or she can relate to. Together, you can find stories specific to:
- Service era
- Military branch
- Signs and symptoms, such as stress and anxiety, alcohol or drug problems, or anger
- Mental health conditions, such as PTSD, depression, or effects of traumatic brain injury
- Life events and experiences, such as transitioning from service, retirement, or legal issues
For example, if the Veteran in your life served in the Marines during Vietnam and is experiencing PTSD, Jesse’s story may be particularly helpful.
Hearing fellow Veterans talk about their recovery can make it easier for a Veteran to take the first step toward treatment. If the Veteran in your life is ready, set a few minutes aside to watch a video together.
At the end of the day, family is what matters. Be strong. Be supportive. Be real.Tiffany, wife of Reagan, a U.S. Marine combat Veteran. Hear her story.
2. Reach out to Coaching into Care.
VA’s free and completely confidential Coaching into Care service helps family members support their Veteran loved ones and encourage them to get on a better track. If you want to support a Veteran, this national telephone service is a great place to start. Coaching into Care educates, supports, and empowers family members and friends who need a way to share their concerns with a Veteran while respecting the Veteran’s choices about seeking help.
“The best thing you can do is be open to the experiences they may have had while deployed,” says Brenda, whose husband, Scott, is a U.S. Army Veteran. “Be there for them to sit and chat, and help them if they need to get that help.”
To learn more, call Coaching into Care at 1-888-823-7458 or email CoachingintoCare@va.gov.
If you don’t know how to handle it, don’t just walk away.That’s Renae’s advice to her fellow military spouses. Hear how she and her husband, Jon, a U.S. Army Veteran, found support.
3. Plan ahead. What do you want to express and how do you want to say it?
“You have to be that ear to listen, that shoulder to cry on, and that compassionate person to walk them through to the next stage,” says Todd. His wife, Jodie, experienced military sexual trauma.
Make a “communication plan” for expressing your thoughts and feelings with those you care about; think about what you want to say and how to say it. Be patient. Let your loved one know the door is always open and you’re willing to listen without offering advice or suggestions. Even if they are not ready to talk about what they’ve experienced, they’ll know that you’re there for them when the time is right.
“I’d say to fellow spouses of a Veteran that it takes a gentle push, because a Veteran doesn’t always ask,” says Tiffany. “They’re used to being the one that’s turned to in a time of need — that’s their call of duty. But our call of duty as their support system is to not allow it to go unseen.”
Coaching into Care has additional tips on how family members and friends can talk with a Veteran loved one about seeking care. Check them out here.
Use Your Voice
Every day, Veterans and their family members of all ages and backgrounds find support for mental health challenges — and by taking advantage of these tools, you can too. When those who are closest to Veterans speak up, it makes it easier for Veterans to reach out for support when they need it. Like the military spouses mentioned here — Tiffany, Renae, and Todd — you can be that support system for the Veteran in your life.
By finding a story your loved one can relate to, contacting Coaching into Care, and thinking through how to express your thoughts, you can start the conversation about the importance of mental health treatment.
“Through it all,” says military spouse Rosemarie, “the lessons that we learn while supporting [Veterans] … are priceless.”